‘The Dark Knight’ vs ‘The Superhero Genre’

The Dark Knight truck flip: behind-the-scenes of Batman's best stunt - Polygon


A brief comparison between the established generic conventions (see previous post) of the ‘Superhero’ genre and Christopher Nolan’s 2008 thriller/action film ‘The Dark Knight’.

  1. Just like the classic comic book superhero, Nolan’s Batman adopts a suit which features an iconic emblem, most noticeably the bat ears. However, Nolan’s Batman’s suit is far less glamorous and ‘shiny’ than the typical superhero costume, and secondly it is not a ‘costume’, but a high-grade military suit made of durable and textured materials.
  2. This difference in the suits highlights perhaps the most significant historic difference between Batman and other superheroes: Batman has no superpowers. Nolan’s Batman is given a real-world setting and is a plausible character, hence the importance of the role which ‘Batman Begins’ played in establishing his origins. Although, as with any superhero film, Batman is given ‘narrative immortality’, raising the importance of developing the characters surrounding him, as these are the people at risk. Although, in this film, Nolan almost exposes this trope and uses it against itself; the Joker does not attack Batman (Batman is far stronger physical force) but instead picks off the people around him whilst declaring that the Batman is responsible because he has not given up his identity. Batman, who is almost aware of his inability to die, undergoes immense internal conflict, as he sits back in his position of power, whilst the normal humans are being massacred all around.
  3. Whilst this film does undeniably deliver some of the best moments of ‘theme-park cinema’, what ultimately separates it from other films of the superhero genre is that it is directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan is arguably the most intelligent filmmaker of all time, and is a lover of pure cinema. Hence beneath the surface, this film is perhaps the most intellectually dense of all time, with mythology, religion, philosophy and mental health all playing major roles, and the added portrayal of extremely relevant contemporary themes on the largest possible scale. It is this authenticity which draws in elite actors such as Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, and allows for the blooming of undiscovered talents, most notably Heath Ledger.  Even the ‘popcorn thrills’ are delivered artistically, and with a respect towards the history of cinema, with this film featuring one of the greatest practical stunts of all time: an eighteen-wheeler truck being flipped fifty-four feet in the air, shot on Imax film.

The Superhero Genre

Shared class analysis of the superhero genre, focusing on three typical examples of the superhero corpus:

 Film 1: Superman (1978) Donner     

Film 2: Spider-man (2002) Raimi

Film 3: Wonder Woman (2017) Jenkins


Generic Conventions:

Typical Locations American Cities (New York): tall buildings provide the perfect ‘playground’ for large scale action scenes involving flight and destruction. Also, cities are culturally dense, and highly concentrated hubs of society; every class is represented as we move from the workers on the streets, up to the businessmen in their skyscrapers. Hence they can be used to represent an entire country’s  flaws or strengths, linking to the historical purpose of superheroes being beacons of hope, who aid in uniting humanity. 
Characters / Groups 1 : Hero in a disguise – Clark Kent – Superman, Peter Parker- Spiderman, Regular woman – Wonderwoman) 

2: Love Interest – Clark Kent – Lois Lane, Peter Parker – Mary Jane, Wonder Woman – Steve Trevor

3: Villain – Hostages, Destroy buildings, Kill high ranking peeps, want for money & power, worldly possessions – Superman – Lex Luther, Spider-man – Dr, Octopus – Green Goblin – Mr Negative – Penguin – Rhino – Sandman – Venom, Wonder Woman – Germans – Ares.

Conflicts & Themes Super Villain attempting to cause a world changing event with a superhero attempting to stop it. Villain finds a way to control the hero’s power or gets some sort of weapon. Love interest gets involved. Some sort of learning their power or trying to deal with it as well as their normal life. Tries to convey being pure and that anyone can be a hero and teamwork. Achilles heel.
Filmic Technique E P I C !!!  

Triumph! Glory! High energy, tense, action sequences, Dramatic stunts,  fast moving camera shots,  big, wide angles to show the size of the situation that they are in, Scale, Intense music, typical lowkey lighting for scenes with villains and light/bold/bright colour palette  for the heroes, lots of camera tracking 

Iconography /  Mise-en-Scene Costumes – Superhero logo on the costumes, suits usually with armour and protection, mask to cover up identity  

Props – Gadget/weapon unique to the superhero eg Cpt America has a shield.

Lighting – Low key when there is conflict

Setting – In a large city

Makeup – facepaint for Joker

Shape of the story Act 1

The hero arrives / is born in a dire situation. An orphan.  Extraordinary powers revealed. The villain emerges. The hero is scorned / shunned

Act 2

The hero explores their powers and tries to fix the world. They often meet & fall in love – which in some ways is forbidden to the, The villain moves his plans forward towards a crisis.

Act 3

The final showdown. The hero is given an impossible choice often between their love and the fate of the world. With one enormous effort they manage to defeat the enemy.



Analysis of the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist in Pixar’s ‘Up’

Carl Fredricksen | Cartoonica - Nickelodeon cartoons, Disney Channel, Wiki | Fandom

In class, we were analysing the narrative structure of Pixar’s ‘Up’. I missed this lesson, but came to some interesting conclusions regarding the relationship between the protagonist (Carl) and the antagonist (Muntz). On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that despite their fierce conflict, both characters actually have very similar, if not identical, motives. Both Carl and Muntz are fixated with repairing and honouring their past lives; Carl is driven to fulfil him and his deceased wife’s dream, whilst Muntz longs to repair his reputation of being a global exploring icon by claiming the discovery of Kevin (a rare bird). Addiction is a common trait of an antagonist, but Pixar switch this up by also giving the Protagonist the trait of addiction, sewing the seed in our minds that Carl’s motivations may be irrational. In addition to this, Pixar also provide a refreshing choice of protagonist in this film, selecting to tell the less glamorous the story of an elderly man, and further highlighting the trend of Disney films providing domestic messages intended for parents to receive, as they accompany their young children to the cinema. Ultimately the difference between these two characters, and the decision which allows Carl to win the conflict, is his choice to leave his past behind him and focus more on building relationships in the present. This key theme is highlighted by the ending montage of film which exhibits the loving ‘father-son’ like relationship which goes on to be established between Carl and Russell in he future. This style of ending, where it is implied that the story continues beyond what has been shown on the screen, is very effective. It can be found in films such as: Bladerunner, The Dark Knight, and the final film of the first Harry Potter franchise. It works to create the impression that the story is larger than cinema, and that the characters we have bonded to are real people who will continue to live out their stories… the end credits do not mark an end, but instead inform us that we are just getting started.

Genre Analysis of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’

Guillermo del Toro’s film, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ features numerous generic conventions of the fantasy genre but to use a single category to define this work would be an injustice to its complexity. On closer inspection it is evident that del Toro provides us with the base genre of fantasy, in order to implant premature assumptions into the viewers mind which he later twists and manipulates through the insertion of features from other genres, such as horror and war.    

Opening Shots: Pan's Labyrinth | Scanners | Roger Ebert

In the opening shot of the film, we are boldly introduced to the image of a bleeding young girl lying on a cold dark floor. Whilst the architectural structures of the underground realm in this scene are very fantastical, featuring twisting staircases and towering spires, and the introduction to the narrative of the princesses tale is clearly fantastical, something seems off. This type of foreshadowing opening shot, which we know we will circle back around to, seems more typical of the war genre, in which a tragic death of a good soldier is very much expected, that’s all part of the plan. But the princess isn’t supposed to die is she? Whilst other movies in the fantasy genre, particularly Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, depict key historical crimes of the human race in a more subtle way, for instance the comparison between the Black Riders and the Gestapo, del Toro selects this opening shot to instantly inform us that the comparisons in this fantasy will be far more blunt, less disguised, and more real. Even to the extent that del Toro does not construct comparisons but simply depicts the real world sins; even prior to the first shot, the intertitle informs us of the film’s historically accurate setting: The Spanish Civil war. 

Pan's Labyrinth: What Happened To Ofelia | Screen Rant

Ofelia is a classic example of the typical protagonist in a fantasy film; she is curious, naturalistic, and crossing the border between puberty and adulthood providing a perfect physical representation of a coming of age. Focusing on the generic convention of a curious protagonist, this characteristic is often only explored in act one of the narrative; he protagonists incapability to follow the crowd, and curiosity leads them to make a key discovery, which is typically finding a whole new world. This is the disturbance which marks the beginning of the second act -in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ this is Ofelia’s first encounter with ‘The Faun.’ However, in a classic fairy tale, after entering the new world the protagonist is often locked into a destiny; they must complete their quest in order to return to their original world. But ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ differs in that Ofelia regularly crosses the border between the two realms. The fact that Ofelia is given free-will allows del Toro to create added tension as Ofelia’s only limitation is her curiosity, which does not seem to be in short supply. Hence we are constantly on edge as we have the prominent fear that Ofelia may be blinded by her curiosity and unaware that she is walking into a death trap.

Pale Man | Non-alien Creatures Wiki | Fandom

The frequent insertions of elements from the horror genre are used for personal expression and to create suspense. Del Toro has a clear hatred towards Fascism and in general regimes which suppress creativity and freedom of expression. Hence the horror aspects are used to highlight the fear induced by these cruel regimes, just like the audience the citizens who must follow the commandments of these regimes are constantly on edge and possessed with angst. As well as the symbolism behind the fright which the audience experiences, the horror elements also make for great entertainment; sitting down with a group of friends or family to embark on a collective journey of shared fear is a very desirable cinematic experience. In fact throughout the whole film del Toro creates tension and excitement, to entertain but, perhaps more importantly, to gain the audience’s interest and subsequently buy del Toro a few minutes of creative freedom to express some more complex individual ideas. 


Analysis of the Narrative Structure of Pan’s Labyrinth

In the opening flash-forward shot of Guillermo del Toro’s, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ as we watch a young girl bleed out onto a cold stone floor, we are instantly informed that we will perceive this story through a blunt and graphically unforgiving lens. Whilst most fantasy films do attempt to address the real world sins of humans, it is typically done so in a more implicit way, for instance the similarities between hitler and Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter film series. Del Toro on the other hand does not shy away from incorporating historically accurate real world crimes into his work; even before the opening shot, an inter title informs us textually of the historic context.  This is likely to make his analysis of these flaws in humanity more relatable, accessible, and ultimately real for the audience members -he wields the power which cinema has to influence and mould the virtues of audience members. Some directors, most notably Tarantino, use vivid violence for pure entertainment, contrastingly del Toro uses it as a tool to tell the audience, ‘Wake up! The real world is grim and brutal,’ perhaps not in tone with the escapism we hope to find in a fantasy. And as the narrative develops we still wait for this statement to be corrected, as we anticipate the success of the rebels and the restoration of goodness, despite the fact that we consciously or perhaps even preconsciously know that we must inevitably circle back to the chilling opening shot.

The opening shot is then followed by the opening narration which, whist not quite as intense as a Bond or Indiana Jones opening scene, is narratively dense and entertaining; we get a mini fairy tale story at the start to temporarily satisfy our desire, and impatience for narrative revelations. Through this mini narrative we are also introduced to the conflict between the real world, and the fantastical world; we are left uncertain as to whether the princess’ journey into the real world was an escape from darkness, or a tragic mistake.

The structure throughout the rest of the film is split up into two simultaneously developing narratives: the real world civil war, and Ofelia’s exploration of the fantastical realm. Like Christopher Nolan’s, ‘Memento,’ colour distinctions, and setting dichotomies are used to clearly highlight the division of these two narratives: the fantastical world features woodland features and much more naturalistic colours: greens and browns, whilst the real world is much more darkly lit and has a more industrial aesthetic. The grim lighting creates the impression that all of the life and goodness has been sucked out of this world, providing the perfect habitat for a vampire, or rather a life-sucking captain. A key moment regarding the simultaneous narratives is when the character of the Faun enters into Ofelia’s room; we realise that the forces impacting Ofelia are no longer purely her childish curiosities, but in fact the Faun is now wanting something from her, adding to his sinister mysteriousness. Additionally this really marks the beginnings of the amalgamation of the two realms; up until this point we have only witnessed Ofelia and the fairies cross the border. As the influences the two worlds have on each other grow more intense and frequent, building momentum, we are given a revelation which cements the fact that the underground realm is not an extension of Ofelia’s wondering imagination, but instead most definitely co-exists with reality. This idea is communicated through the mandrake root; as Carmen twitches in violent pain as the root burns, it is apparent that there is a definite connection between these mystical creatures and the real world.

Similarly to the hairpin structure of ‘Memento’, after influencing each other, the two narratives inevitably meet at the end, and the binary conflict as to which world Ofelia, and in turn the audience, should choose to be the superior one is addressed. But at first glance the film seems to end in tragedy; the protagonist dies and whilst the rebels take satisfaction in defeating the Captain, there is an overwhelming mood of darkness. But as Mercedes weeps over the body of Ofelia, we see her blood, he life and essence, flow out of her finger tips. Del Toro uses the weeping Mercedes as an embodiment of the audiences current feelings as they mourn the death of Ofelia, but it soon becomes apparent that Mercedes, as well as the audience, are mourning in ignorance; in fact, ‘Ofelia’ has now accessed enlightenment beyond the physical world. And in fact, the opening shot was not a spoiler of what was to come, but in fact an added reminder to look deeper at this scene, and realise that the protagonist of this film is not the real world ‘Ofelia’, but rather the soul of the princess trapped inside her body. Del Toro expresses the key belief of Plato that the physical world is grim, irrelevant, and ignorant, and perhaps that rather than try to repair something which is intrinsically broken we must instead escape. And with the final line of the film, del Toro sews the seeds in our heads that, ‘if you know where to look,’ the fantastical realm can be discovered. Perhaps this is the kind of message a young del Toro desperately needed as he fought against his catholic grandmother’s repression of his creativity, and perhaps this world of fantasy and enlightenment is the world of cinema.




Generic Conventions of the Spy Genre

The bomb is a key generic convention of the Spy genre and is used to increase the tension of a climax. This is because as soon as the bomb begins to tick, a pledge is made to the audience that something big is going to happen. Whilst in more grounded and emotional movies the conflict can be resolved in an undramatic way, the insertion of a bomb in a spy movie means that there is no way for the director to play it safe; something must happen. In modern cinema, audiences are no longer entertained by the simplistic outcome of the hero rushing in at the very last second and neutralising the bomb, so auteurs are finding new twists. For instance, bombs are used extensively in Christopher Nolan’s, ‘The Dark Knight,’ and they are used in a way which breaks the Hollywood laws; the hero does not always manage to deactivate the bomb and save the ‘princess’ in time. This raises the stakes and the tension to even higher levels for the climax of the film, the ferry scene. This draws on Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic analysis of the suspense and engagement created when the audience is informed of a bomb being planted,’The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!” In fact, almost every Nolan film features a bomb, or at least a metaphorical one, as he truly understands the power of a ticking clock.



Another generic convention, which is especially apparent in the James Bond franchise, is the seduction of females by the main character, often to exploit them to receive information. Whilst these scenes do make for some iconic one-liners, modern audiences now rightfully demand more sophisticated roles for women. Christopher Nolan’s most recent film, ‘TENET,’ plays on all of the Spy genre stereotypes wonderfully, and uses the audience’s expectations of them as a manipulative tool. For example, after seducing a girl, James Bond will often later fall for them. This same series of events is featured in, ‘TENET,’ between the protagonist and the character of Kat, however, rather than a shallow sexual relationship forming, a much more complex conncetion of respect, and even friendship is developed, friendship being a key theme of the movie. Furthermore, when the protagonist ‘reverse bungee jumps’ into the house of a wealthy arms dealer, he, and with him the audience, instantly assume that the man the protagonist encounters is the arms dealer, when in fact the real arms dealer is the character of Priya, who we mistook to be a simple housewife. This establishes the idea that we should not underestimate Priya, and that despite her gentle motherly appearance and tone she is far from gentle. Of course, the audience and the protagonist quickly forget this warning, until it’s far too late because perhaps we still can’t quite fathom the idea of a woman being an intelligent and ‘evil’ protagonist.


I find it really intriguing how the main protagonist in a Spy movie acts almost as a character in a videogame which the audience can use to navigate the world and draw out facts from the characters the protagonist meets. Because the protagonist is almost an embodiment of us we definitely feel more tension and threat when he faces near-death encounters. This is very similar to how the viewer is put in the position of the detective in, ‘Whodunit’ films.


This storyboard to the right portrays the previously mentioned convention of the protagonist falling for a female, who is then taken hostage by the main antagonist. The protagonist then faces a choice, save the girl or complete the mission, and at this point, we know that the morally sound protagonist will not hesitate to sacrifice the mission and save the girl, at least in most cases…watch the Dark Knight…

Additionally, the character of the purely evil antagonist has developed incredibly in recent years. Rather than the villain’s only characteristics being that they are greedy, evil, and own a huge all-powerful army and fortress which is impossible to penetrate until the underdog protagonist manages to penetrate it seemingly easily, auteurs are developing more complex antagonists. For instance, an antagonist that has so little power, at least in the conventional use of the word, that the protagonist now has the upper hand, and the whole tables are turned, or a villain who has no clear plan, and is freakishly unpredictable, bewildering us and the protagonist. Whilst the antagonist always believes that they are doing the right thing, it is often clear that they are deluded, and wrong. But once again in, TENET,’ this is altered; the antagonist Sator has a genuinely valid argument which is impossible to prove false. Like in, ‘The Dark Knight,’ which features a string of classic philosophical thought experiments, but now in the real world and with true consequences, ‘TENET’ also uses unsolvable philosophical questions to perplex the audience, who can’t make a decision for their life, and therefore wait intently for the main protagonist to do the right thing, and in turn untangle the knot of complex philosophical arguments in their heads.  And whilst the answers to these philosophical questions are less obvious in ‘TENET’, with closer inspection, perhaps a third or fourth watch, they are discoverable.




The Captain’s Feast – Mise en scene analysis.

Guillermo del Toro carefully considers each element of mise en scene, for every frame in the scene of, ‘The Captain’s Feast.’ This enables him to create a dense network of meanings and connections around the characters, allowing him to improve and develop the narrative of the film. 

The dining room, or specifically the dinner table, is a popular choice of setting for many filmmakers, given how universally prominent it is in every global culture. Food is a human necessity; no matter the circumstances we must eat. This leads to the amalgamation of people from different classes and additionally, or perhaps therefore, people of different opinions. All of these egos are splashed together into a boiling pot of conflict, which typically grows to a climax throughout the scene. 

Additionally, the physical aspects of the dinner table provide del Toro with some excellent proxemic compositions: the characters gradually getting smaller and more inferior the further away from the Captain they sit, and vice versa when facing the Captain the leading lines created by the edges of the table, the characters, and even the cutlery in front of them clearly establish his self assigned central importance, and power. 

Within this scene there are two main climaxes. Firstly, del Toro uses the motif of the antibiotic vial to present the espionage-esque climax, being the revelation to the characters of the Doctor and Mercedes of the newly established danger they face of being discovered. This is partnered with the previously mentioned generic climax of dinner table interaction, between the character of Carmen and the twins. To increase the effect of these climaxes, del Toro throws us off their trail by juxtaposing the cold blue lighting and rain of the previous scene, with the warm colours which are practically lit by fires, giving us an initial false sense of security. This also helps to later increase the sense of vulnerability experienced by Mercedes’ character, when del Toro cross cuts to her dangerous mission of beaconing information to the rebels using her small lantern to cut through the darkness and rain.

Returning to the dinner table climax, the obnoxious and outspoken twins are a total generic convention of the dinner table scene. It is no coincidence that the actors cast to play these nosy, intrusive fiends both have especially prominent noses. Thus the twins wear plain undistracting clothes, and even their hair is shortened and gelled up to clear the stage for the prime exhibit. The choice of doubling up what could have just been one woman into identical twins further conveys the recurring theme of Carmen being powerless and outnumbered, and seems to almost comically exaggerate just how annoying they and their identical views are; it’s as if Carmen is duelling with a two headed monster.

As we reach the crux of the conversation between the twins and Carmen, the Captain is still sitting back and dining on this conflict being performed just for him, on his stage. In fact, the assortment of roasted meats, grapes, and wine create a semantic field which almost presents the Captain as an embodiment of an all powerful roman emperor, who adores exerting his power to make those beneath him squeal. But then all of a sudden he is approached and asked to give his opinion on the conversation between Carmen and the twins, suddenly the tables are turned and he finds himself in the spotlight of discomfort. Whilst he ends up siding with the twins, the lack of eye contact with Carmen seems to present some regret in his marital betrayal. 

This sparks a chain of vulnerable body language displayed by the Captain, and as he commands a standing of the guests to respect his wife’s departure, and the conclusion of the scene, we are left with the fleeting idea that perhaps beneath his brutal front the captain there is a small fragment of compassion for his wife. 


P.s I don’t quite understand how to use the word ‘proxemics’ yet, so it may be incorrectly placed.

My Favourite Film

‘Are you watching closely?’ The introductory montage of Christopher Nolan’s Period Drama, ‘The Prestige’ instantly plunges you into the entertainment and showmanship of the world of magic, and begins the key comparison between it and the world of cinema. The excellent production design is essential in realising this world in which the characters exist. Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister use the technique of keeping the physical sets out of our immediate focus; I can’t remember a single shot in which the focus is a street or building. This prevents us from noticing the edges of sets, or imperfections in them, instead, the viewer almost subconsciously fills in the world around the characters, adding to the sense of personal wonder; the world is literally something out of your own imagination. This technique was drawn from the earlier works of Ridley Scott, particularly Blade Runner, and Nolan and Co perhaps decided to use it after Batman Begins, in which some of the wide-angle shots of the Gotham Slums (which were actually miniature models) looked, in my opinion, too fantastical. Although this is very debatable given Nolan’s attempt to merge the previously typically fantastical superhero genre with a more realistic world; he definitely wanted to keep some fantastical elements in the Film, for instance, the character of Scarecrow. Though perhaps the main reason for this was to please the DC fan-base, ensuring a smoother entry into the genre, because, as soon as he succeeded in entering, he definitely moved more towards his ideal vision of a ‘grounded’ superhero film in his next work of the trilogy, ‘The Dark Knight.’ Now, back to the Prestige… When the ‘prestigious’ secret to the bird trick is revealed our admiration for the world of magic is somewhat destroyed, as we are exposed to the brutal, cruel work which goes on behind the scenes to maintain its facade of wonder. Sadly, Nolan leaves us to conclude that magic is not real -or at least, not yet? This moment also serves to inform us that our two main characters are willing to go to any extremes in order to serve the craft, thus delivering one of the key philosophical questions of the movie: should we despise them for their cruel actions, or respect them for having the passion to sacrifice their virtues for their craft. This merging of antagonistic and protagonistic traits within single characters can be found in every Nolan film, from the character of Leonard to more recently the character of Sator. The previously referenced comparison between these magicians and film directors, combined with these ideas of wild, lethal determination gives this film a similarity to Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. Both Nolan and Kubrick express the likely personally experienced conflicts caused by unbreakable addiction to one’s craft, and whilst we sympathise more with the character of Angier’s motives, ‘I do it for the smiles on their faces,’ than we do with Jack Torrance’s, both characters still lead us to the idea that perhaps there is only one true end to life-consuming addiction: death. Mesmerisingly, Nolan structurally embeds the main narrative of the film into a short scene lasting hardly more than a minute, and naturally, after delivering us the pledge and the turn, the film is wrapped up with its very own prestige.


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